Sports Psychology – Applied to football

Well it turns out that my college education is NOT a complete waste of time.  Lately I have been able to see more of a connection between the kinesiology classes I take and coaching.  I have a set list of classes I have had to complete to graduate in June but instead of just getting through things so I can teach, I am actually beginning to LEARN things that I can apply to coaching.

Sports Psychology is my final scientific kinesiology class in my way of graduating but it has been without a doubt the most interesting, rewarding, and applicable class I have ever taken.  Before I began this class I had negative connotations (as I’m sure many coaches do) of what sports psych really is.

I just pictured people asking about athlete’s feelings and what they are thinking… basically a big waste of time.  My thinking on sports psychology was to not be negative to the kids, and get them to just play ball.

I am sure there are people reading this right now that think the same way.  The fact is psychological skills are a huge facet of football or any activity and these skills can be improved just like a backpedal or down block.

The first step is on us as coaches to get educated, i highly encourage all of to take a basic sports psych class to give yourself a foundation to build from.  If any of you need continuing education to keep employment try finding a sports psych class.  I will do my best to synthesize and summarize the valuable nuggets I have gotten from class but you will get the best benefit from taking a course yourself.

The first basic concept to understand is arousal level and anxiety level.  Arousal is essentially how activated a kid might be, arousal is not inherently bad, an increase in arousal can result in an increase in focus.  However with arousal also comes an increase in anxiety.  Anxiety is the stress and nervousness our athletes, and even coaches feel.

Anxiety takes away from performance because it destroys focus, confidence, and it diverts attentional space within the brain.  It hinders physical performance and can cause athletes to both mentally and physically lock up.  Over anxiety can literally cause an athletes muscles to lock up uncontrollably.

It is important to understand that we as coaches must get to know our players on an individual basis so we can determine what level of arousal they need to play.  Understanding our players, and their arousal and anxiety levels can allow us to maximize their performance and focus by minimizing their stress.

The goal of sports psych is getting our kids in to, or as close as possible to being “in the zone.”

For each kid this zone is different, some kids perform better at low arousal levels, some at high arousal levels, and some are somewhere in between.  This is something I have to work on next year, I am a big Ra Ra guy on Friday nights and try to get everyone pumped up, essentially getting everyone to high arousal levels, and while this may have been helping some of my athletes it is absolutely crushing others.  For those low arousal in the zone kids I have just taken them to an uncomfortable arousal level, undoubtedly increasing their anxiety, now couple that with it being a big game, or against a rival, or homecoming, or their girlfriend just broke up with them, and this kid is not focused on football or at the top of his game, neither physically or mentally.

This all affects what information athletes take in visually and how they process it.  Each athlete is different but when they are in their zone they take are able to take in relevant information on the field and exclude everything else.  If they become too aroused, or not enough they will either go into tunnel vision and not take in visual information from a wide enough scope, or they will take everything in, including all outside distraction and irrelevant information.

We of course want to give our kids the best chance to be focused, play confidently, and succeed so how do we go about applying these concepts.

Just like in football we have to practice these psychological skills.

First we must explain to the kids what I have laid out, and then begin working on anxiety management and getting int heir zone at practice.  Each kid will begin to get their own sense of what level of arousal they play best at.  Once we can master this in practice we can apply it in games.

Red Light, Green Light, Yellow Light

This concept will allow you to understand where each kid is at pre game.
Once the kids understand the concepts or arousal, anxiety, and their optimal zone we teach them red, yellow, and green light.

Green Light is being in the zone… whatever that zone is for the kid.  So if a kid is feeling great, no stress, just perfect ready to kick ass, he is green light.  “hey Johnson, how do we feel?”  “Green light coach!”  Now you know that kid is fine, you do not need to do anything, he is ready to go.

Yellow light – over aroused – He is feeling anxious, nervous, worrying, you need to lower his arousal level now because he is about to crap down his leg.

Red light – under aroused – they are not pumped up enough to be focused, this kid needs that great Al Pacino pep talk or fired up head butt.

By quantifying their arousal and anxiety levels the kids are able to give you a measurable glimpse into their mind.  Then you as the coach can apply intervention to get them into their optimal zone.

I hope this didn’t get too boring lol, I think there are some good concepts for us to use in football within this sports psych class.

As I progress through the quarter expect more posts on the concepts from sports psych I can use in football.

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